There’s a vigorous, sometimes contentious discussion going on in the comments to this post at Dean’s World. In the post Dean takes sharp exception to those (specifically to Michelle Malkin) who are overgeneralizing in their condemnations of Islam and Muslims.
I’m not going to analyze Dean’s post closely. I think he errs in some details but I’m largely in agreement with him. I’m even more in agreement with commenter M. Simon who notes that what we’re really opposing is something that goes back much farther than the birth of Mohammed—IMO one of the things that Mohammed saw when he looked at the society around him. And, as some commenters have noted, Islam, at least as practiced, is not a monolith. There are many important divisions in Muslim societies e.g. between urban and rural practice.
The scholar Ernest Gellner made the following observation in his book Plough, Sword, and Book:
Traditional Islam possessed a high theology and organization, closer in many ways to the ideals and requirements of modernity than those of any other world religion. A strict unitarianism, a (theoretical) absence of any clergy, hence, in principle, equidistance of all believers from the deity, a strict scripturalism and stress on orderly law-observance, a sober religiosity, avoiding ecstasy and the audio-visual aids of religion—all these features seem highly congruent with an urban bourgeois life style and with commercialism. The high theology and the scholarly social elite associated with it were traditionally found in the trading towns, which were prominent in Islam. But the upper strata of commercial cities did not make up all of the Muslim world. There was also a countryside, much of it tribal rather than feudal. There, order was maintained by local groups with a very high military and political participation ratio, to use S. Andresky’s phrase. So military/political activity was not monopolized by a small stratum, but rather widely diffused. Pastoral/nomadic and mountain groups in particular had a strong communal sense and maintained their independence from the central state. Central authority effectively controlled only cities, and some more easily governable peasant areas around them.
The wholly or partly autonomous rural groups needed religious mediators and arbitrators (as did, for quite different purposes, the urban poor). Thus, quite distinct from the lawyer/theologians who defined and maintained high Islam, there was also a host of semi-organized Sufi, “maraboutic” or “dervish” religious orders and local living saints. These constituted an informal, often ecstatic, questionably orthodox unofficial clergy. It really defined popular Islam, which embraced the majority of believers. For many centuries, the two wings of Islam co-existed, often in tension, sometimes peaceably. Periodically, a (self)-reformation, a purifying movement, would temporarily reimpose the “correct”, scholarly version on the whole of society. But though the spirit be willing, the social flesh is weak: and the exigencies of social structure would soon reintroduce the spiritual brokers, mediating between human groups in the name of mediating between men and God. So, even if the formal urban Islam was “modern”, the Islam of the countryside and of the urban poor was not.
cited here. The upheaval in Muslim societies that Gellner goes on to predict is well under way and, to my untutored eye, it looks very much as though rural traditions of practice were overwhelming the urban traditions.
I have no doubt that Islam is compatible with democracy any more than I do that Christianity, particularly the tradition to which I belong with its implicit (and, frequently, explicit) endorsement of a social hierarchy, is.
But I don’t think that tribalism is compatible with democracy and (again in my uninformed opinion) there are far too many Muslims who conflate Islam with the tribalism that is older than Mohammed.
I don’t agree with Dean, however, that those who fail to distinguish between our friends and our enemies in the Muslim world are traitors. That word has a specific meaning and the lapses of those whom Dean is critiquing don’t rise to that level. But they are counter-productive.